Here it is Thursday the day after my promised Wednesday blog posting. Yesterday was a travel day for us back to Santiago. We were up at 3am in cold Punta Arenas for a 5am flight. Punta Arenas was a smart move on my part. The shoreline there will be my staging area and departure point for the coming voyage. We had an excellent meeting with Capitan Herrera (the zone commander) and two other high ranking officers from the Armada de Chile. This meeting was the #1 reason I elected to travel to Chile and it came off very well. All in all in Chile I met with the Armada five times all leading to this key meeting because the zone commander in Punta Arenas has the "go, no go" say over any vessel wishing to enter and sail the waters of Tierra del Fuego.
The Meeting With The Armada
I had prepared well for the meeting with a powerpoint presentation and a detailed description of my boat and plans. The Armada is extremely strict about any yacht or ship plying their waters, especially yachts. Tierra del Fuego south of Punta Arenas is wide open wilderness and arguably the roughest ocean environment on the planet (thats how they see it) and I have to agree although I haven't sailed many other notably rough places to truly gauge which is the roughest. Literature and history seem to prove it out and I think John Welsford now gets it too. There is nothing like being on the ground in such a place to understand and appreciate it. Punta Arenas is one cold windy place even at the height of summer (now). It is a place where just walking down the street can be hazardous due to the almost constant high winds, plus it's cold just as I remember. No shorts and t shirts here, summer means winter coats.
The meeting with the Armada started with officers looking at us with wide eyes, a bit still I'd say, skeptical. However by the time I had concluded the powerpoint we were amigos. There was support and awe in the room plus another bit of brotherhood serendipity. Near the end of the presentation the slide came up of the Armada certificate that was presented to me years ago in Puerto Williams verifying and recognizing my double rounding of Cape Horn. When the slide came up Capitan Herrera lit up and recounted how he to had rounded Chiles greatest point of pride, Cape Horn. He was also presented with the same certificate. We clasped hands and brotherhood was spoken amongst the group. It was a magical moment and the moment that set the stage for the openness and willingness of the Armada to work with me. Nice!
The mood in the room was excellent and I reckon these gentlemen have heard many requests from far less prepared sailors. They were impressed and offered suggestions. One of them was a big boat sailor and so we clicked. John asked to film and the answer was yes and so we yarned on together as he ran the camera.
I Have Always Wondered
When I was last on Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) I had a very full experience. The weather turned just as I arrived and I ended up bivouacked in the tiny hut with three Armada naval ranks, Marcello, Noe and Carlos (the Armada is trying to locate them now for a meet up after so many years). The winds increased to over 90 knots at times and there we were hut bound for the best part of ten days. On the third day conditions improved with winds in the twenty five knot range and so I went for a hike and the two station dogs lead the way. After about an hour they lead me under a broken down fence through deep tussock grass and through another fence, we retraced our route back yet it was not a straight path. The dogs kept stopping and back tracking. (I recounted this story to the officers as John filmed). Finally I noticed my three friends (specks in the distance waving and gesturing wildly at me), I waved back and continued to follow the dogs. When I arrived at the hut I was told the dogs had lead me through a live unmapped minefield planted during the recent Chilean/Argentinean military conflict. I gulped and wondered about what had just happened. Marcello in broken english told me the dogs knew where the mines were! As I recounted the story the officers eyes darted back and forth between each other.
So I asked the officers if there was indeed a live unmapped minefield on Cape Horn and they said yes there was and yes that would be the one I walked through since removed by Chilean special forces. So there it is. For all these years I have been reluctant to tell friends about the day I twice walked through a live mine field because I wondered if I had missed something in translation or if it was true. Seemed just sailing Tierra del Fuego was dangerous enough but alas the crazy hand of man had planted mines in numerous places throughout the region all because of a dispute over three small islands.
Returning from exploring Cape Horn and walking through a mine field............how bizarre is that!
Punta Arenas and Changes
Punta Arenas has changed much since I was last there. When I was there in 1989 and 90 there were no tourists, at least I didn't see any. Now the town near the bottom of the earth has apparently tripled in size and I fear is one of those "last best places" pointed out by hip travel and faux adventure magazines that in the end ruin such places. While Punta is far from ruined it has changed in many ways but is still a rugged cold place and a beautiful small city. The streets are lined with boutique restaurants and hundreds of North face and Patagonia clad hikers (from all over the world) and backpackers who perhaps come to say they have been to Tierra del Fuego. There isn't much to do in Punta for a tourist other than take a canned penguin colony tour (which we learned was very disappointing), snap selfies on the shore of the Strait of Magellan and eat out at pricey restaurants while displaying neon colored state of the art hiking and backpacking gear. Kinda weird I have to say.
Crossing the Strait of Magellan
Joh and I crossed the Strait to Porvenir and back aboard a ferry. I wanted to do this to gain a better view angle south down the Strait along the course I intend to sail. It was a rough and wicked clod crossing, my pal John was cold, heck so was I. He remarked as I pointed out my intended route past Cape Froward and west that the snow capped mountains in the distance looking like "ice white fangs waiting for me", well theres one description. It was a lumpy ride and beautiful. We talked about our friend Pete Leenhouts and his trip as Captain of a US Navy ship plying the same waters many years ago. Porvenir was unique, I'll put up photos later today.
All for now as
I have to head out for a last meeting. I'll post more with photos this afternoon.